Etxebarri is tucked away in the hills near Bilbao, and has become famous in foodie circles for the obsession of self- taught chef/patron Victor Arguinzoniz with grilling food (he has been at these premises since 1989). The kitchen has two wood-fired ovens and a custom grill, using a variety of woods to impart flavour to the produce that is cooked. The 18th century building contains an upstairs dining room that was more formal than I was expecting, with white linen tablecloths and well-spaced tables, with a wood floor.
The wine list is remarkably good value. 1997 Rioja Alta 904 was listed at EUR 42 for a wine that will cost you EUR 32 to buy in the UK in a shop. Similarly Dagenau Silex 2007 was just EUR 85 compared to a retail price of about EUR 74, while Vina Ardanza 2000 was EUR 28 compared to a shop price of about EUR 22. Even the greatest of Spanish wines, Vega Sicilia Unico, was listed at just EUR 150 for the 1996 for a wine that will set you back more than this (EUR 173) in a UK shop, while the divine Salon 1996 champagne is EUR 240 compared to a retail price of around EUR 225. It is lovely to encounter a list such as this, where you feel free to indulge in a fine wine without any sense of being ripped off.
Bread consisted of a large, white, rustic country bread, which had quite rough texture and did not seem to me to be perfectly fresh (12/20). The first dish to appear was chorizo on toast, featuring excellent chorizo without a hint of the stringiness that can occur (16/20). Even the butter here is smoked, appearing with ash. White tuna was grilled and served with high quality tomatoes, the fish getting a hint of smokiness from the preparation (16/20).
A single Palomas prawn was stunningly fresh, again simply grilled and served whole, the flesh delicious (17/20). Clams and frogs legs followed (16/20) and then superb mussels (17/20). Grilled squid was excellent, without any chewiness whatever (17/20), while a piece of grouper took on the smoky flavours well (16/20). Finally a generous portion of excellent beef appeared (17/20), carefully cooked medium rare as to my request, again with a lovely flavour (17/20). A cream ice cream on red berries was refreshing (15/20) followed by an apple tart with smoked ice cream, with reasonable pastry (14/20).
Service was attentive throughout. Overall I found Extebarri a very enjoyable experience, and the wine list offered remarkable value. Simple food with high quality ingredients, done well: if only more restaurants could follow this philosophy.
Further reviews: 23rd Sep 2014